The death of a racetrack. Why punters everywhere should take a moment today.

Racetracks should never die. They should grow old, carrying the tales of champions and scallywags alike.

This weekend, one of the world’s most famous tracks will race for the final time. After 75 years, Hollywood Park, in LA, is closing the gates. The place that had Bing Crosby and Walt Disney as original members, is being knocked down, for a housing estate. Yep, another mall, where Seabiscuit saluted.

I was lucky enough to visit the hallowed turf a few years back. One of the great days. I wrote a piece that night for my Facebook buddies. And yes, it may have been influenced by some U.S hospitality. Here it is again. Farewell Hollywood Park.

December 12 – 2010

Apart from the Greeting Squirrel and the Mad Trumpeter, there’s not much difference between Eagle Farm and Hollywood Park racetracks.

The old rule of backing the first beast you see on track is hard to apply, when the animal in question is better known for storing nuts in tree trunks. (Or is that a chipmunk? Are they the same? Anyway, there was a large rat at the races .. you get it).

It was a decent enough conversation starter with the lady in the hut selling racing bibles, although she was more interested in comparing the Aussie dollar with the coin of her homeland, the Columbian tinbit. “Iz worth notheeng”, she moaned, before providing me with a lengthy history lesson on her native land, and apparent similarities to Australia.

With race 2 pressing, I feigned interest for all of 60 seconds, before returning to the squirrel/chipmunk/rodent. He was now lying flat on the bitumen, like a slobbering floppy-eared hound on a hot day. Was he sick? No, my new friend replied, he was giving us a sign. Either you’ll be lucky today, or it will be hot tomorrow. She couldn’t remember which. I carefully stepped over the flattened furball and headed trackside.

I had secured a lovely table in the prestigious Turf Club section of the racecourse, through an e-mail in which I explained my connection to one of Brisbane’s most famous stayers, a horse named Beartracker that almost qualified for the Melbourne Cup. I did omit the bit that outlined the need for 1,200 horses above him to be scratched for the Bear to actually get a run, but it did the trick.

There were tables as far as the eye could see, all with their own race monitors. OK, something else a little different to Brisbane headquarters. That, and the bloke in the green suit playing an extremely long trumpet every 30 seconds. He was everywhere. From ushering the horses onto the track, to playing Happy Birthday at the table below me, our man was the life of the party. It’s obviously one of those rich traditions of the American turf. By the look of him he may have started that tradition, because he was surely one solid blow away from sending his top dentures into the enclosure.

Something else that didn’t change was my luck. I won’t bore you all with more tales of near-misses, except to say that I can lose a photo finish just as comprehensively here as I can at home. And in case it makes the papers, yes, there was a minor blow up over the judge’s decision, and the lack of a protest over what was clear interference in the last 100.

My own objection from high in the stand prompted the only smile all afternoon from Mel Brooks, who may well have been having a worse day than me. (Note the star-spotting mention there – the daughters can’t be the only ones racking up credits on that front).

Anyway, it wasn’t a day where millions were collected, but still a fun and memorable stint, for an old punter who loves nothing more than to be in the company of others with serious problems. I didn’t get the chance to farewell my Columbian friend on the way out, but I hope she dresses for a scorcher tomorrow.

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